We humans have never lived in an environment like this digital one, one that is increasing exponentially in complexity and size. None of us can keep up. The latest new thing yanks attention this way and that. We risk that whole libraries of content and backlists may be leapfrogged over, ignored, never digitally archived, lost forever.
As traditional publishers consolidate to a handful of global players, all with sophisticated digital strategies and business models serving their current business interests, perhaps, increasingly, only the content they choose to publish or aggregate or point to may be found by online readers, on terms these few publishers dictate.
OK, maybe free search will still turn up unvalidated forests of digital content unbranded by any traditional publishing authority (such as publisher, library, university, or gov.), adding bricks to our Tower of Babel. But in both cases, digitized content = centrally controlled content, and, as we saw on the side of the barn in Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” such content can be changed with a keystroke. Readers of the future should be ensured both of the comprehensiveness of online scanned content, and also its fidelity to the printed word. Time for a popular library?
Perhaps some new, extra-institutional publishers will crank up and take a populist approach to building and maintaining personal libraries from around the world, creating a multilingual, ubiquitously available online library. Instead of Bookmobiles bringing books for people to read in outlying communities, a small UHaul Bookmobile carrying a state of the art scanner may roll in to town, funded by the local Rotary or Chamber of Commerce, and spend a Saturday at the Community House, scanning for free people’s rare books and documents, creating a people’s library, accompanied by a rich semantic index which could be created and maintained by university-based indexers and metadata experts, growing a new and popular library before all those old paper books get….recycled.